With the release of the first iPad just three years ago a new medium for visual storytelling was born. It wouldn’t take long before publishers, photojournalists, and filmmakers flocked to create immersive experiences specifically for this platform. With a big screen and the promise of better interactivity than ever before, the iPad has the potential to redefine non-fiction storytelling in the 21st century.
Documentaries seem especially well-suited for this platform. Supporting the promise of documentaries to raise awareness and visually represent factual data, the physical characteristics of the iPad lend themselves to a closer and more intimate experience with media, which in turn prompts a more engaged audience. New exploratory and interactive features are further infused into the overall experience when documentary stories take to the iPad, a shift that is undoubtedly changing the future of filmmaking forever.
Increasingly, it appears, the iPad is also blurring the lines between what constitutes a documentary. What was once dubbed a multimedia portrait or photojournalism in a magazine has become a documentary experience on the iPad — one where audiences are placed up close and personal with heart-wrenching images on a screen that they are in control of.
In this edition of Top 5 iPad Documentaries we honor the best mix of documentary apps that are pushing the boundaries of digital media and telling beautiful personal stories and struggles in a way that only an iPad can.
1. Rape in Congo: Peace Violated
Powerful images, sound and video come together to paint a vivid picture of a tragic phenomenon: women have become the most vulnerable members of society and rape has become a weapon of war. Produced as the first interactive documentary made exclusively for the iPad, the striking multimedia report by journalists Zoé Lamazou and Sarah Leduc exposes the stories of women fighting rape on a daily basis in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The iPad format helps draw audiences in a variety of enriched ways through alarming photos and voice recordings of women and children who’ve been raped both by soldiers in uniform and rebel militants. The interactive portrait launched by France 24 helps break the silence and the impunity that surrounds sexual violence and is a sad and moving story that must be seen.
Get it here.
2. Money & Speed: Inside the Black Box
On May 6, 2010 a brief and unprecedented financial tsunami rocked the stock market. Reconstructing the financial flash crash was no easy task, but this iPad application — produced by Dutch broadcaster VPRO together with CatalogTree — exposes the dynamics of a rapidly changing financial world with a strong story, interviews, and a host of visual tools.
Sophisticated interactive visualizations attempt to reconstruct the order of events on that fateful day and allow audiences to see the drops in prices being discussed to better understand the speed of the fluctuations. By incorporating several time series, multi-layered interactive maps, infographics, and a world map with live stock updates, this iPad documentary demonstrates the complexity of the crash that took place and the lack of human control in the downfall.
3. Manaus: The Great Move
Eleven videos, and many more devastating photos and voice recordings take you to the desperate lives of people living in Manaus, the jungle capital of Amazonas in Brazil. A place where the revitalization of urban planning is urgent due to a river that rises more than 12 meters each year and displaces hundreds of thousands of residents. Developed by Ecorce Atelier Créatif together with photographer Hubert Hayaud and journalist Jacques Denis, this interactive and immersive photojournalistic documentary is replete with interviews of residents, a history of the area, and maps of the region.
Zooming in on Igarape, a municipality in Manaus and home to more than 500,000 living in dire conditions, audiences face a place where only 4% of the entire sewage system is functional. With the city experiencing exceptional growth in recent years and with a projected 2.5 million inhabitants by 2020, the urgency of housing can no longer be ignored as families are being forced to resettle to unsanitary zones in the outskirts.
4. Keep on Steppin’
We can’t help but include Keep on Steppin’ — our very own iPad documentary which premiered earlier this week in Amsterdam. Dutch photographer and filmmaker Marjoleine Boonstra makes her new media debut with a cinematic reflection on human dignity. Five beautiful poetic films tell the stories of people who, through circumstances beyond their control, have been displaced and forced to start from scratch.
From hurricane-destroyed New Orleans to the aftermath of a horrendous civil war in Serbia/Croatia, incredible macro photographs and video all appearing in slow-motion float across the screen as the voice-over narrative progresses. Though the documentary doesn’t particularly make use of interactivity that the iPad presents (except for sliding between stories by swiping with the finger), the aspect of audiences coming so close to the striking images in this one-on-one experience truly brings people deeper into the story, where it’s hard to withhold an emotional response.
Or watch it on the dedicated website keeponsteppin.submarinechannel.com
5. Condition One
Though not a traditional documentary we also must include Condition One, an application that is reinventing interactive and immersive video on the iPad. Developed by photojournalist Danfung Dennis (director of the 2011 Oscar-nominated documentary, Hell and Back Again), a custom camera, filmmaking techniques, and virtual reality come together to create this app which enables a 180 degree field of view experience for audiences.
By tilting the iPad up, down, or to the side, or swiping fingers across the iPad, users are in control of the images they’re looking at. Whether down at the protests of Occupy Wall Street or on a ride through the Tokyo metro, video shot using the Condition One system helps put users in the center of the action to get a full picture of any situation. Since the app launched in late 2011, a host of new content by filmmakers has been produced and videos now span the of categories news, sports, travel and fashion. The Guardian has even toyed around with the app and you can watch their commissioned immersive videos directly on your iPad, or in this preview.
It’s just the beginning but we’re psyched to see more!
Katy worked at Submarine Channel as an editor, social media manager and digital producer. She's now contributing as a freelancer from her home in NYC. Katy is a new media thinker and film junkie with a passion for digital storytelling.